If it's true that Gran Torino is Clint Eastwood's final turn before the cameras (and we sorta believe him, but we're gullible that way), then he's going out in style with the kind of tailor-made role that not only allows him to burn up the screen but also manages to sum up an entire career.
His character, Walt Kowalski, a racist, expletive-tossing ex-Marine who doesn't understand why his neighborhood has been overrun with Asians and other ethnic minorities, could actually be "Dirty" Harry Callahan at 78. Eastwood scowls, grumbles, and squints his way through encounters with the gang members and Asian neighbors who have a mutual distrust for Walt but nevertheless try to live with him side by side in peace.
Walt's wife has recently died; his grown son, Mitch (Brian Haley), is trying to move him into a rest home; and his dog is getting older. As gangs roam the once peaceful streets of his suburban street, he progressively gets angrier, particularly when his friend Sue Lor (Ahney Her) is beat up by the toughs. He also becomes close to her brother, Thao Vang Lor (Bee Vang), who tries to steal Walt's beloved Gran Torino car but really just needs help to keep away from the dangerous elements taking over the area.
Although the rest of the cast is fine, with one or two exceptions (Christopher Carley is woefully miscast as a scrub-faced priest), this is Eastwood's show all the way, and he proves he still has a great performance or two in him. It's vintage Eastwood, the kind of role in which he's most comfortable and the one he has been playing in one variation or another since he began his acting career on Rawhide in the 1950s. Although this would be enough, Walt is more complex than many recent Eastwood creations. He's the kind of blue-collar guy you find all over Michigan, where this movie was filmed. He's angry, forgotten, frustrated, and not going to take it anymore. When he grabs his rifle and blurts out the film's signature line, "Get off of my lawn," to a group of punks, you know there is only one actor now living who could give it any credibility. And fortunately he's the one saying it.
Gran Torino probably could have been called Rio Bravo or Red River. It feels like an urban Western, with Eastwood as the reluctant, retired sheriff pulled out of retirement to clean up the town all by himself. Instead of on horses though, the gangs of outlaws are in convertibles, conducting drive-bys. When Walt says to a gang, "I will bet you're sorry you decided to fuck with the wrong guy," we cheer. Even if it's a senior citizen pointing the gun and taking the law into his own hands, we are grateful someone out there still cares about decency and honor. Most of all we are just grateful Eastwood decided to step in front of the cameras one more time.
Written by: Nick Schenk
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brian Haley, Christopher Carley, John Carroll Lynch